By George Munene
Jaick Agricultural Produce, an exporter of organic strawberries is looking to onboard more farmers onto its group of growers.
The firm, which currently has 70 contracted farmers and another 32 trial farmers, is looking to increase on its seven to eight tons of strawberries exported every week to the UAE and Kuwait markets.
“Organic/ minimal pesticide produced strawberries are in-demand in the international market. Using a system of integrated pest management (IPM) with chemical application as a last resort, we also reduce the production costs of our farmers,” explained Jaick CEO Benson Maina.
The company which was founded in 2019 is located at Mountain Mall along Thika Road. Its stable of farmers are spread across the country; in Eldoret, Thika, Nyeri, Machakos, Kitengela, Kisii, etc, farming on as little as one-eighth of an acre to 10 acres. It also offers overall project management services to five diaspora farmers.
Like all agriproducts, the price of strawberries fluctuates; one kilogram now costs Sh340-350, a Sh50 drop from a month ago. The strawberries are packed in punnets which are graded one through three. Grade one contains 12-14 fruits, grade two 14-20 fruits while grade three fits bean-sized strawberries.
Trial farmers are given training on strawberry farming as well as farm tours to provide them with a rounded view of what strawberry farming entails. Jaick growers also have access to on-demand agronomic help and strawberry plantlets.
“Before anything, we conduct soil tests and establish the rate of nutrient distribution; this informs an individual farmer’s feeding program. We recommend that our growers use Chandler F1 strawberry cultivars,” Benson says.
Chandlers are perrenial fruiters, vigorous, flavourful as well as glossy, large and firm. They are also resistant to common strawberry plant pathogens. However, they are susceptible to leaf spot, leaf scorch, red stele, and anthracnose.
The company sells potted seedlings for Sh70; these have transplanting viability of 95 per cent. Bare root plantlets have a 60 per cent transplanting viability and cost Sh50.
An acre of strawberries holds 30,000 seedlings spaced 30cm by 30cm apart. Each plant has a production potential of 20 grams every week and a three-year lifespan.
Being 80 per cent water, strawberries are heavy drinkers but also require six to 10 hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive. Polythene mulch is recommended for organic growers to limit attacks by pests. To ward off birds, farmers should invest in erecting a bird cover net.
They should be grown in well-conditioned soils with well-decomposed manure.
Virgin land is ideal for organic strawberries as pathogens are at a minimum. Alternate cropping also helps arrest this. Solanaceae family crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes of which strawberries are a member should be avoided.
The fruits are harvested when half-ripe to avoid perishing while in transit.
For Evans Njoro, a Jaick farmer at Red Hill, Limuru, despite teething difficulties, there’s obvious potential in strawberry farming; ”the initial cost of seedlings and learning how to tend to the plants were a major hindrance in scaling the business. Now that I can plow in profits and have learned how to care for the strawberries, I’ll no doubt be tasting the sweet fruits of this labor.”
While the company’s major markets are Kuwait, UAE, and Comoros, it also serves domestic consumers. These include Naivas supermarkets, Highridge Wholesale Fruit Market, Farm to Feed Kenya, jam makers, and local fruit shops.
Jaick Logistics: 0723146885